A few weeks ago during my last series on pornography a reader submitted the following question:
“Is it true that soft-core pornography is a ‘gateway drug’ that often leads to more dangerous and damaging forms of pornography?”
The short answer is, “Yes.” The long answer is a bit more complicated.
What I learned about my own addiction to pornography (and what I suspect any addict in recovery learns) is that my addiction is not really about pornography. My addiction is about unfulfilled needs, specifically unmet needs related to loneliness and acceptance. Pornography was the ‘substance’ I used to artificially fulfill my unmet needs; many other men use pornography for the same purpose. In this way pornography behaves like a drug and thus the analogy of soft-core pornography as a ‘gateway drug’ is not far off. However, what the analogy fails to capture is that soft-core pornography is no different in substance from hard-core pornography whereas, for example, marijuana (the traditional ‘gateway drug’) is a fundamentally different drug than heroin. The only real difference between soft-core and hard-core pornography, with regard to its effect on a person, is comparable to shooting up small or big; either way you’re shooting up.
Soft-core pornography is often the first kind of pornography people see in their lives because it is more common and more socially acceptable, and thus more readily available. In this way soft-core pornography is similar to marijuana as a ‘gateway drug’. However, there are many people who have smoked marijuana but who have never tried any other illegal drugs. The idea that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’ is based primarily on the assumption that a person is more psychologically apt to use other illegal drugs once the choice has been made to try marijuana. I do not believe this is the way pornography works. All of humanity is born with the propensity to lust, and people were lusting long before cameras enabled the creation of the pornography industry. Unlike marijuana, where users deliberately choose to use a particular substance and thus decrease their psychological dependence on systems of authority (thus reducing inhibitions related to other illegal drugs), I believe people begin making unconscious decisions to lust long before they aware that what they are experiencing is lust. There are no ‘lustful inhibitions’ left to lose by the time a person discovers pornography.
There is another way the ‘gateway drug’ analogy breaks down: Soft-core pornography does not lead to hard-core pornography because of lowered inhibitions; it leads to hard-core pornography because lust can never be satisfied. Though it seems the only way to get relief from lust is to give in to it, doing so is like throwing gasoline on a fire in an attempt to put the fire out. Pornography is a progressive addiction; the more you see, the more you want.
Finally, unlike marijuana (which is psychologically but not physically addictive) pornography is psychologically and highly physically addictive. The neurochemicals released during pornography use are nearly as strong and addictive as heroin. A person who uses soft-core pornography releases the same neurochemicals into their brains as a person who uses hard-core pornography. Over time a person builds up a ‘tolerance’ for soft-core pornography and the associated neurochemicals, and the user moves progressively into ‘harder’ pornography.
Do you think soft-core pornography is like a ‘gateway drug’?